INTERVIEW, TEACHING PERFORMANCE ART.....SEPTEMBER, 2001
QUESTION:WHEN DID YOU FIRST BECOME INTERESTED IN TEACHING?
LINDA M MONTANO: Since 1966 I have been teaching art and have become familiar with teaching on three levels:
1.Teaching sculpture and object making at Catholic women's colleges;1966-1971.
2.Teaching performance art intinerantly with no administrative responsibilities in hundreds of places, 1971-1991
3.teaching performance art in a university while participating on committes, and in the life of academia, 1991-1998
Out of those three experiences, I prefer the visiting artist model since that better suits my skills, my personality and my style.
Q; WHAT IS YOUR STYLE?
LMM: I teach performatively, that is, what happens with people who spend time with me in the classroom is sometimes identical to what happens in performances. The classroom is a laboratory for the creation of presence, community, structure, intimacy, analysis, information and transformation. That has always been my goal. When I wear my performance art teacher mask, I allow myself to engage the body, mind and spirit of those playing the role of student. But the bottom line is----I must be engaged, attentive, having a "good" time for the whole thing to work
Q: THAT SOUNDS LIKE A THEATRE WORKSHOP TO ME. IS THERE A DIFFERENCE?
LMM: Videotaping one of my classes would reveal that many of the acivities look the same as those you would see in many other"creative" places. So what you are saying is true. But also, I'm convinced that fate puts us together with certain people who can tolerate each other's style and this gives that group a chance to get very high together, for lack of a better word. When they leave the lab/classroom, they adjust their methodologies to daily life and make that a performative dance.(See ART IN EVERYDAY LIFE, MONTANO 1980.)
Q:WHO WERE YOUR MENTORS?
LMM:Every spiritual teacher I've ever had especially my meditation Guru, Dr. R.S. Mishra as well as composer Pauline Oliveros and performance artist/teacher Eleanor Antin. All were holistic and were totally themselves when they taught. Plus, they had a ball!
Q: DESCRIBE A TYPICAL CLASS.
LMM: I start with the body: we might stretch to Indian Ragas, slow walk while accompanied by the TV news,or imitate geriatric courting birds . Addressing the physical first allows for instant trust, instant community, and a change of focus from the stresses of everyday mind. Play silences the judge. Then what follows is a sound exercise or what Pauline Oliveros terms, Sonic Meditation. These sound scapes are effective ways to clear out the debris of ego, worry, and make room for the authentic presentation of self later on in the class. And for the soul, silence might be "felt" or a chakra visualization offered, to deepen inner awareness. None of these examples are set in concrete since all is based on mood, weather, the day, and the needs/demands of the group. Often we have left the room, gone to a stream and sat the entire class.
The bottom line is , HOW TO CREATE CREATIVE PRESENCE , ATTENTION AND TRUST SO THAT STUDENTS CAN PERFORM THEIR SECRETS OR LIES, THEIR AUTOBIOGRAPHIES OR CELEBRATIONS, THEIR CONCERNS OR OUTRAGEOUSNESS FOR EACH OTHER IN A HEALING/BENEFICIAL ENVIRONMENT.Let's experiment now and do a fast, McDonald's version of one of my classes.
First, stretch your shoulders. Good. Feel your muscles breathe. Good, make a sound. Disguise your voice and tell your own inner child something that you need to hear. Now makke an animal sound that sums up your experience of the College Art Association meetings. Now feel the texture of silence and breath for 30 seconds. Good.
Q: HOW DO YOU GRADE PERFORMANCE ART?
LMM: One of the reasons that I am not able to perform the role of professor is because I insist that excellence is not measured by ADCB,but by the ability to change, to feel and to charge brain waves via the creative exploration of autobiography as art. Sure,in some classes my students have written extensive heady and theoretical research papers on ritual, gender, the body, the purpose of audience, the history of performance and these papers serve as a gradable object but I am still most facile and comfortable as a teacher when I don't have to serve as an arbiter or judge of another's excellence. Often I would say:
1."Grade yourself at the end of the semester."
2.or,"You start this class receiving an "A". And at the end of the semester, I would say, "Do you feel that you deserve an"A?"If they say no, then I would comment,"Then do x number of hours of community service to compensate for any lack of effort you might have given your work."
3.or sometimes I would announce, "All of you are getting "A's" and from the shock of that gesture, the rest of the semester we would rock and roll in relief.
Why are grades so problematical? I think it's because performance art from it's inception was about the edge, the outside, the permission not to belong. Performance artists teaching performance art in the academy have this great opportunity. They can give students:
permission to use both brains
permissionto move from trance to analysis
permission to create critiques that heal and don't hurt
permission to clean up our acts in front of each other
permission to take the practice home and make daily life, art.